The pre-season college football yearbooks that I have seen —Lindy’s Sports, Athlon Sports and USA Today’s 2012 College Football — are forecasting a dismal season for Kentucky. All three publications have placed UK at last place in the seven-team SEC East Division.
But will the 2012 Wildcats, led by All-SEC lineman and NFL prospect Larry Warford, fare better than that in my annual fearless forecast?
Here’s a quick look in UK’s game-by-game schedule:
**LOUISVILLE (Sept. 2 at Louisville) — USA Today’s college football yearbook is predicting a 10-2 mark for the Cardinals after a 7-6 campaign last fall, including a 31-24 loss to N.C. State in Charlotte’s Belk Bowl. Sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater now has more experience after being named Big East’s Rookie of the Year. The Sunday afternoon matchup will be shown on ESPN. U of L by 7.
**KENT STATE (Sept. 8 at Lexington) — The Golden Flashes of the Mid-American Conference finished their losing season (5-7) in 2011 on a strong note, winning four of their final five games. They could have a female walk-on kicker, April Goss, in action. She played two years as a high school kicker. Ex-UK wide receiver Tommy Cook is Kent State’s new director of football operations. UK by 14.
**WESTERN KENTUCKY (Sept. 15 at Lexington) — This could be a dangerous contest for the overconfident Cats, who may overlook the up-and-coming Hilltoppers. WKU’s program has improved dramatically and is coming off a fine 7-5 performance last fall. The Wildcats will have an advantage this time as the beaten-up Toppers will be recovering from a tough Crimson Tide beating in the previous Saturday. UK by 9.
**FLORIDA (Sept. 22 in Gainesville) — The Gators are struggling somewhat in the relatively-new Will Muschamp era. They almost had a losing campaign last fall, finishing with a 7-6 mark after a bowl victory over Ohio State. One of Florida’s wins included a 48-10 whipping of the Cats in Lexington. The last time Kentucky won at Gainesville was in 1979 during the coaching days of Fran Curci. And don’t expect a different outcome this time, either. The Gators have outscored Kentucky by combined scores of 111-19 in the Swamp’s last two meetings in the series. UF by 24.
**SOUTH CAROLINA (Sept. 29 in Lexington) — The ole’ ball coach wasn’t a happy man the last time he was in Commonwealth Stadium. That was in 2010 when the Wildcats stunned Steve Spurrier’s 10th-ranked Gamecocks 31-28. But Carolina features star running back Marcus Lattimore and is still tough after nine and 11 victories in the past two years. USC by 14.
**MISSISSIPPI STATE (Oct. 6 in Lexington) — The Wildcats still haven’t won a single time against Bulldog boss Dan Mullen in three tries (with competitive scores of 31-24, 24-17 and 28-16). It is a winnable matchup since the Cats will be playing at home. UK by 6, improving its worksheet to 3-3.
**ARKANSAS (Oct. 13 in Fayetteville) — Don’t expect to find the former Razorback boss and his mistress at the 72,000-seat Reynolds Razorback Stadium. But ex-U of L and new Arkansas coach John L. Smith will be there, pacing the sidelines and trying to keep the talented Razorbacks on a winning path. Arkansas by 17.
**GEORGIA (Oct. 20 in Lexington) — Mark Richt is still in Athens, having survived a hot-seat season after leading his 2011 Bulldogs, who won the SEC East title, to a 10-4 mark, including a three-overtime loss to Michigan State in the Outback Bowl. Richt is expected to field a Top-10 team this fall. UGA by 10.
**MISSOURI (Oct. 27 in Columbia) — The Big Blue Nation will find out that its new league member has someone who is a UK graduate. That someone is Dr. Brady Deaton, the Chancellor of Missouri who grew up on a Kentucky farm. The Tigers are guided by James Franklin, the star QB (not the charismatic Vandy coach with the same name). Before coming to the SEC, the pigskin Tigers had one of the better programs in the Big 12. But veteran coach Gary Pinkel will have his hands full in the powerful SEC. Missouri by 9.
**VANDERBILT (Nov. 3 in Lexington) — The 2012 Commodores are going to be like the same old Vandy teams of the past, meaning a near-automatic “W” for the Cats, right? Nope. Vanderbilt has moved up in the sporting world, at least for now. After a surprising bowl season, the Commodores are gunning for an even-better campaign. It should be a winnable date for Kentucky, but the Nashville school is a little bit better. Vandy by 3.
**SAMFORD (Nov. 17 in Lexington) — After an open date on Nov. 10, the Cats should be fresh for a very easy blowout. Samford is a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA) team. The Bulldogs are led by coach and 1971 Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan, the former Auburn star who is beginning his sixth year at the Birmingham, Ala., school. UK by 24.
**TENNESSEE (Nov. 24 in Knoxville) — Will Joker Phillips use the same running — or winning — offense that he employed against the stunned Vols in UK’s surprising 10-7 victory last November? If the UK boss did, it probably wouldn’t work as the emotional Vols seek revenge against the Cats before a friendly orange-clad crowd. UT by 20.
So, Kentucky — with its disappointing 4-8 record — won’t be attending a post-season party for the second straight time after five consecutive years of bowling.
But the good news is that these pre-season predictions, including mine, don’t count and they could be just plain wrong.
And what if the Cats somehow pull a big surprise by stopping favored U of L in the opener? That key rivalry matchup may well determine Kentucky’s fate in 2012.
We’ll see and stay tuned.